The low tourist season on Naxos has many blessings and benefits, but public transportation is not one of them. Buses running from Hora to the villages are infrequent and make trips difficult to plan around time-tables. And with cars renting for only about $26 a day, it’s a no-brainer to make the most of the good roads and scenery.
My last car trip takes me first to the outskirts of central Naxos near Halki. I’ve seen the big rocky spire on other trips but the ruins of the old fort blend in with the color of the stones, making its features difficult to discern from a couple kilometers away. Not today, however, as I park the car beside what used to be village washbasins in the shadow of yet another church. I follow the signs for “Plano Kastro” (the Plano Castle) and “8th C. BC Cemetery” on the only trail possible, and am soon tooling down a narrow lane hemmed in by high rock walls. Walk past a couple chained dogs that strain at their restraints and are fairly insane, outraged that someone should invade their territory. Ugh. I carry a rock in each hand.
The cemetery is visually unremarkable because the stones of tombs blend in with other rock features, so I continue on and scale a wall to enter a sloping field of grass and flowers that leads upwards to the castle. A variety of civilizations has used this high and strategic point–Mycenaeans, Greeks, Turks, Venetians–with the last group responsible for the structures that remain in various stages of decrepitude. The little chapels (I count four among the ruins) indicate that each must have been sponsored by a family or guild, enlisting the Catholic God to help defend and protect “our” people on this mountain.
En route to the top, I come across several old structures have doorways and archways still standing, and I delight in the frames they provide for landscapes beyond. While too far below to photograph, flocks of black and white goats with iron bells around their necks provide a soundtrack that further colors each direction I look.
And since I am in the remains of a castle-fort, I imagine how one clear morning a sentry cries out an alarm that Turkish ships are approaching. Cannon fire ensues some 13 kilometers distant, both from the ships and the town of Hora. Before long the town’s defenses fall silent. It will be only a matter of hours before the fort is besieged and its commanders and troops either captured or killed. Despite the beauty of the spring morning and flowers blooming everywhere, I have no illusions that people suffered and probably died here. Requiescant in pace (rest in peace, Latin).
(Note: the white smudge in the distant background is the town of Hora)
From the top of Plano Kastro, I surveyed my circular return route to the car, bypassing the mad dogs and traversing the crest of a series of rocky upthrusts, of which the fort occupied the most dramatic. Lots of rock-hopping, tricky maneuvering, tip-toeing my way across little chasms, plodding over smooth inclines, taking a break here and there to admire the scenery even as the sun heats up. The livestock walls are rocks piled head-high, indicating a serious concern to keep property lines distinct.